Monday, February 21, 2011

The Internet: Best friend or worst enemy?

Or a little of both?...

As an “Indie” writer, I owe whatever success I’ve had so far to the Internet. All of us “Indies” do. The Internet has finally provided an outlet for us to sell out works without having to go through the traditional gatekeepers. Not only that, but it also provides a means to promote our work without spending an arm and a leg on advertising. Anyone with the drive and determination can write a book, put it up for sale on Amazon and other outlets, and then send it to review bloggers, create a Facebook page, a blog, a website, etc. If the work is any good, people will hear about it, and hopefully buy it, and the Indie writer can begin to make a living. Yeah for the Internet! My new best friend!

Of course there is a flip side to all of this. For any writer, the Internet can be a huge distraction. Throughout history, a writer’s tools have allowed him or her to write, and nothing more. From papyrus paper in ancient Egypt, to notebooks and ballpoint pens, to typewriters to electric typewriters, the tool was a means of getting thoughts onto paper. That is no longer the case. Now a writer’s tool allows that writer to check e-mail messages, read news, play games, participate in forums, see real-time sales figures for their books, watch videos, and on and on. All it takes is one tap of the mouse and suddenly the writer can lose himself in this digital world. This is something every writer on earth is now having to struggle with. It opens up a lot of questions. What effect is this having on the literature of our day and age? What are these distractions having on the writer’s creativity? What is it doing to our brains and the way they function? Perhaps only time will be able to answer these questions, but perhaps more pressing, what can a writer do to combat this new menace?

One much-discussed approach is that of the writer Jonathan Franzen, who claims that nobody with Internet access at his or her workplace is writing great fiction. Franzen famously removed the wifi card from his computer, deleted any program that might distract him, and put Super Glue in his Ethernet port. Like most authors, I haven’t succumbed to that approach yet, but I can definitely see where he’s coming from. So far I’m making-do by unplugging my wifi router for extended periods during the day, or else just trying to get by on sheer willpower. I’m hoping that with practice, the willpower alone will be sufficient, but again time will tell. If all else fails, it is good to know that the convenience store down the street is stocked with plenty of Super Glue.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What would Shakespeare do?

There was an interesting op-ed in the New York Times today about online piracy. The article made the point that Shakespeare and other playwrights of the time were only able to thrive after the invention of the indoor theater. For the first time, customers had to pay to get inside to see a play. This income allowed actors and playwrights to earn a living from their craft. Without those four walls, the world may never have known Shakespeare at all.

Likewise, copyright law has allowed authors to profit from their works since the eighteenth century. But what of today's innovations? Could online piracy just as easily wipe out any profit motive and deprive the world of potential works of art? How would Shakespeare survive in an age of online piracy?

As a writer just beginning to earn a profit from ebooks, I have a slightly different perspective. In over 20 years, not one agent or editor was willing to take a chance and publish my work. I feel no bitterness, it is what it is, but now for the first time I am on the cusp of actually making a living from my writing. In my case, and for many other independent authors, the Internet actually creates the profit motive. I realize, however, that piracy could just as quickly take that away.

Many of my fellow independent authors have no fear of piracy at all. They have the feeling that anyone who downloads a free copy of one of their books probably wouldn't have read it otherwise, but may now buy their next one. I'm not so sure about this logic myself, but that argument aside, I think that the golden age of independent publishing is right now. I'm not seeing many signs of piracy yet myself, but as e-readers become more and more popular it is bound to become a much, much bigger issue in the next few years. In the meantime, anyone who has purchased a copy of my book, thanks a bunch! It may not be Shakespeare, but this author's got to eat!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

Well, it's that time of year again and I hope everyone is enjoying Valentine's Day! I tend to think of this as a holiday where people in love can celebrate their good fortune, while everyone else must try to buck up and put their best face forward. The truth is, everybody is loved by somebody; a friend, a sibling, your parents, your children... So no matter your circumstances, today is a great day to remind someone you care. When all is said and done, after all, that's really what makes life worth living!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

New cover for my next novel

Well, I just came up with a new cover design for my next novel, Sweet Ophelia and the Tinsel Town Blues. Here it is:

And here is the blurb:

Warren August is down and out in Hollywood, flat broke and living on the streets. When he stumbles onto a movie set in search of food he winds up with a speaking role. Now he might just have a chance to win back his Ophelia. Sweet, sweet Ophelia, who broke his heart three years before. But can he hold it together long enough to redeem himself? And will she ever take him back?

If all goes well this one will be out in the spring. If anyone has any feedback, feel free to comment!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Better never than late?

I’ve mentioned previously on this blog how many query letters I’ve sent out over the past 20+ years as a struggling writer. I think the number came out to be around 13,500 all told, if I'm not mistaken. Most agents and editors never respond at all, but for those who do, the response time is usually anywhere from a few days to a few months. I’ve had a couple of instances when I heard back from someone a year or so later, but that pales in comparison to the response I received from an agent a few days ago. She was finally getting back to me about a query I sent to her… wait for it… Eight Years Ago! It said right on my original query, “Message sent 2003…”

Now I didn’t remember the agent at this point, but the query was for a film script that I’d written way back when. She wanted to know if I was still writing. I responded, with some amusement, that I was, and wondered why she was asking after so many years. Then I sat back and waited to find out, hoping I’d hear some time before 2019. It ends up that this time she got back to me the very next day, asking if she might be able to sell me some script consulting services. Ahhh… I see. Things are tough all over. There’s rent to pay, after all. I respectfully declined, though maybe I should have waited a little longer to let her know…

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


In 2008, launched its annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. This contest was designed to promote their new CreateSpace subsidiary. CreateSpace is a Print on Demand service that allows writers to upload print-ready files which can then be ordered as paperback books on Amazon. Each time a customer orders the book, one or more copies can be printed and shipped.

At the time the contest was initiated, I had little interest in CreateSpace or POD. It sounded like a great technology, though I couldn’t see many people ordering my books at the prices I’d have to set them at. It didn’t seem financially feasible, but the contest itself sounded great. It was free to enter and one winner would walk away with a $25,000 advance and a publishing contract from Penguin. The contest was designed to work a bit like American Idol. Contestants would upload short samples of their book, and editors (or contractors) from Publisher’s Weekly and Penguin would narrow them down through a series of cuts. In that first year, the first cut, I believe, was from 10,000 down to about 2,000. After that, the general public would weigh in and the final result would be solely decided by popular vote.

I was pretty sure I had a good shot at making the first cut, at the very least. I entered a book I’d been working on called “Natalia,” about a girl from Eastern Europe sold into slavery in Turkey. I worked so hard on this book, I’d even traveled all the way to Istanbul to research the locale. I had to make the first cut, right? Well, no. The night that the announcement was supposed to be made, I kept checking my e-mail obsessively. They were late. Very late. I finally went to bed around midnight, but got up early in the morning to check again. Disaster. I didn’t make it.

The following year I entered the manuscript for a book now titled “Sweet Ophelia and the Tinsel Town Blues.” This was a lighthearted romantic comedy. Surely this would make the cut. Again, no go. I was nearly as disappointed as the first time around.

The third year they changed the format just a little. Now they would offer two categories, Adult and YA, with 5,000 entries per category and a $15,000 contract for each. Instead of the first cut being judged on a sample of the novel, it would now be judged based on a pitch, which was basically a short, compelling description of the work. This time I entered “No Cure for the Broken Hearted.” I worked on that pitch, and polished it, and was sure I would make the cut this time. At least the first cut! No. Nada. Didn’t happen. Three years in a row, three different novels, and I couldn’t even make the first cut.

Now it is time for ABNA version 4.0. Again they are offering two $15,000 advances on contracts with Penguin Publishing. And you know what? The way things have changed in the past year, I'm no longer very interested in a $15,000 advance. To give up my ebook rights? Hmm... Sure, maybe I’d make more on royalties in the end, but right now I’m having too much fun out here on my own. Even though I’m still small potatoes, it’s fun to be part of this ebook revolution.